What two little words can improve your conversations, at both work and home? They can also help you gather richer data and negotiate more effectively.
Words are important and choosing the right ones can make a big difference. When we start a question with ‘Why’, it can easily take on an accusing tone. For instance “Why did you do that?” is often a good way to start a heated argument. It can easily take on a demanding tone and imply that there is a right or wrong answer.
Instead, try these two words either on their own or to start a longer question. Tell me. “Tell me about that experience”, “Tell me about the reasons why that is important to you”, or after someone has alluded that there is more to the story, just say “Tell me”.
This is a great example of an open question, as opposed to a closed question which can be simply answered with a yes or no response. Open questions lead to much more disclosure of interesting information and you’ll often be surprised by what the respondent may share. This is a great technique to use either at work or at home, and can improve the quality of our conversations and relationships.
“What’s a good follow up question?” you may ask. Simply say “Do go on” or “Tell me more”. Sometimes people just need a little bit of prodding to share even more useful information with us.
Stephen Covey talked about “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” in his best seller The 7 habits of highly effective people. Asking open questions like this is a great way to do that. This then lays a fantastic foundation for building trust and understanding. Without this information we are just guessing or assuming we know what the other person is thinking and feeling. This is such a dangerous thing to do and can lead to a string of unintended consequences.
Another phrase John has found useful is “I’m curious”. He will often say “I’m curious, can you tell me more about that please?”. He likes to think that this shows he is not wanting to judge them or the information they’re about to share. Instead John is asking because he simply wants to better understand the situation. John says he has found this works a treat and usually people will happily oblige!
A recently released book by Alexandra Carter, Ask for more: 10 questions to negotiate anything covers this amongst many other useful topics around negotiation and mediation.
So now you know those two magic words, and perhaps a few other suggestions thrown in for good measure.
Well, you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below the blog post and tell us about your experiences with using open questions, including any tips and further ideas about it. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
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Carter, A. (2020). Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything. Simon & Schuster.
Covey, S. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. Simon & Schuster.